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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy Birthday Andrea Davis Pinkney - September 25

Happy Birthday Andrea Davis Pinkney - September 25

This past weekend, my family loaded into the van and traveled to Washington, D.C for the National Book Festival.  This was our second year attending, and the kids were so excited to head back to the "big city" for a weekend full of books, authors, Metro train rides, hotel stays and seeing the sights of the city. 

The theme of the 13th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival (September 21-22) was "Books that Shaped the World." (click here to nominate a book).  This theme was a continuation of last year's theme "Books that Shaped America." These themes were chosen to "spark a national conversation" about the books we love, the books that have impacted our lives, the books that have inspired change in ourselves and society, and the books that have brought us a greater understanding of what it means to be a person.

My wife and I spent hours planning our visit to the National Book Festival. I cross-checked the list of children's authors that would be attending the festival with a growing list of the books I was purchasing for the book signings. My wife researched numerous websites for the best hotel at the most reasonable price. I searched for "Top Ten Places" and "Best Kept Secrets"of Washington D.C. for ideas of where take the kids when we weren't at the festival. Two weeks before the festival I still felt like we didn't have a solid plan for our visit.  Then,  I discovered that Andrea Davis Pinkney, one of the authors appearing at the festival, happened to have her birthday within the same week as the event.  I immediately requested all of her books at my local library and read them intensely looking for connections to Washington D.C.  I quickly realized that one of the "Best Kept Secrets" of visiting Washington D.C. is to let books by Andrea Davis Pinkney "shape" your vacation.

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the author of over twenty books for children including Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and his Orchestra, Bird in a Box, and Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation.  Her career as a writer began when she took a job as an editor for the magazine Mechanics Illustrated after graduating from Syracuse University.  It was not the perfect job, but it lead her to meet her future husband, Brian Pinkney. He worked across the hall at another magazine. Also, her experience at Mechanics Illustrated opened the door to her next job at Essence Magazine.  It was at Essence, in the early 1980s, while compiling book suggestions for parents, that Andrea learned "there weren't many quality children's books coming in for African-Americans. I would go home to Brian and complain about this gap that I saw in the materials." (Scholastic). This experience helped develop skills that she would later use as an editor at Simon and Schuster, Hyperion, Scholastic and as an author of her own books. Her first children's book, Alvin Ailey, was published in 1995, and was also the first of many collaborations with her husband. Brian Pinkney recently described his wife as, "fiercely committed to using words to bring history to young people." (Horn Book). Andrea Davis Pinkney recently received the 2013 Coretta Scott King Award for Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America (click here to read her acceptance speech).

We started our activities for Andrea Davis Pinkney's birthday celebration as soon as we arrived in the city after an 8 hour drive. Our first stop was the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House. I chose to visit this site so we could learn more about Mary McLeod Bethune, teacher and civil rights activist, who was featured along with nine other women in Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book in 2001.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House was the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women and the last home of Bethune in Washington D.C. (National Park Service).

With my two younger children napping in the car with my wife, my oldest two children and I enjoyed a 
video that featured many photographs of Mary McLeod Bethune with an audio track of one of her speeches and a guided tour of the house. Before, leaving we read the selection about Mary McLeod Bethune from Let it Shine, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, on the floor in the front room of the house pictured above.
My children learned that Mary McLeod Bethune was one of seventeen children in her family and that she was the first black woman to head up a federal agency, Division of Negro Affairs under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 
Also, at the house we heard our tour guide mention the name Dorthy Irene Height, the 4th President of the National Council for Negro Women, who is also featured in Let it Shine. She served as president of the NCNW from 1957-1998 (National Park Service).

Our next stop was Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, VA. We chose this location to read Dear Benjamin Banneker, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.  In our research before our trip, we learned that the Arlington House, located within Arlington National Cemetery has one of the best views of the city.
We read the book on the steps of the Arlington House overlooking the city of Washington D.C. Benjamin Banneker was chosen by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to survey the city that would later become the nation's new capital. (Author's Note, Dear Benjamin Banneker by Andrea Davis Pinkney). 
It was a long walk up to the Arlington House, but totally worth it!
What a view!
We were lucky enough to find someone to take a family photo of all six of us.
My daughter was inspired to sketch the Washington Monument before she left the site.

Our family was TIRED after this visit. We headed to our hotel to rest up for the next day at the National Book Festival.
We got an early start to the day, before all the author talks and book signings, and visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
We read Martin and Mahalia, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. It was a very moving experience reading the words of Andrea Davis Pinkney at this location. It gave me an opportunity to talk with my children, using Andrea's words and Brian's pictures as my guide, about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that was just celebrated on August 28, 2013. 
Later that afternoon my family was able to meet Brian Pinkney and Andrea Davis Pinkney! We wished her an early "Happy Birthday" and told her all about our experience reading her books all around the city.
We were so grateful that the rain held off to get this photograph with them.
Thank you Andrea Davis Pinkney for writing books that helped "shape" our experience in Washington D.C. for this year's National Book Festival.  We really enjoyed meeting you and Brian! We hope you have a wonderful birthday with your family!

1. A Profile of Andrea Davis Pinkney written by Brian Pinkney - Horn Book
2. Biography - Scholastic, Voice from the Gaps
3. Coretta Scott King Award 2013 Acceptance Speech - Horn Book
4. Interviews - Scholastic, The Brown Bookshelf, Scholastic Teachers, Kirkus Reviews
5. Interview about WITH THE MIGHT OF ANGELS - Scholastic
6. Video Interview - About SIT IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN - Barnes and Noble
7. Andrea Davis Pinkney at National Book Festival 2008 - Library of Congress
8. Teacher's Guide for BOYCOTT BLUES - HarperCollins
9. Educator's Guide for SIT IN: HOW FOUR FRIENDS STOOD UP BY SITTING DOWN  - Hachette Book Group
10. Teacher's Guide for SOJOURNER TRUTH'S STEP-STOMP STRIDE - Disney Hyperion Jump at the Sun
11. Teacher's Guide for DUKE ELLINGTON - New Hampshire Public Television

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